Commentary: Let There Be No Hiding Place for Rapists in War

A Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is taking place in London until June 13, 2014. The event, the largest of its kind, is the result of a two-year campaign to raise public awareness of the issue. US Secretary of State John Kerry, among the high-ranking officials attending the meeting, has written the following article.

 Let There Be No Hiding Place for Rapists in War

By John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State

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The Author

Sexual violence plagues every country. It is not just a domestic criminal justice issue. Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity. They perpetuate conflict and instability for generations. They make us all less secure, less prosperous and less free. So there are few causes worthier of international co-operation.

In February I was proud to announce to the world that the United States had adopted detailed guidance to make crystal clear that those who commit sexual violence in armed conflict, or as a crime against humanity, are unwelcome. This week, I will urge my colleagues from around the world to do the same.

This week I join UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and ministers and advocates from around the world in London at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. We will pool our expertise, diplomatic skills and resources toward the common goal of relegating sexual violence to the annals of history where it belongs.

Drastic change can come quickly when we commit ourselves. It wasn’t so long ago that many people in the U.S. did not recognize violence against women as a crime. One of my proudest accomplishments as a young Massachusetts prosecutor was launching the state’s first program for counselling rape victims and putting these cases on a fast-track for trial.

In the U.S. Senate, I fought alongside then-Senator Joe Biden to support the Violence Against Women Act. And I was proud to introduce and help move through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a key piece of legislation, the International Violence Against Women Act.

This issue remains deeply personal for me. Too many of the places I have visited as Secretary of State bear the scars of a time when rape was used as a tactic of oppression and intimidation. Indeed, sexual violence in conflict is one of the most persistent and most neglected injustices today.

As my country’s top diplomat, ending this cycle of violence is a critical mission. The first step is to begin treating sexual violence in armed conflict as a major international crime. It is not and cannot be seen as an inevitable consequence of conflict. Nor is it a simple infraction of a country’s penal code.

The next step in this overdue process will be persuading every government to deny safe haven to those who commit these vile acts. That should be a key legacy of the London conference.

The February change in U.S. visa policy affirmed that sexual violence can be a war crime: it is often organized and systematic, not an unavoidable by-product of war. According to our updated guidance, even those occupying the highest echelons of military or government who ordered, engaged in, or looked the other way when their subordinates committed acts of sexual violence will not be welcome in the United States.

I challenge other countries to do the same. Pass legislation that excludes these perpetrators from entering your countries. Participate in this global campaign of accountability and containment. Protect your citizens and send a strong message to offenders that they are unwelcome and that impunity ends at your borders. We must communicate a unified stance with a single, loud voice: there is no place in the civilized world for those who commit acts of sexual violence. We must declare in unison: “They can’t run and they won’t hide here.”

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Author: D K Sengbeh

Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh (author of Sengbeh's Weblog) is a respected and renowned Liberian journalist, poet and writer with with journalism experience since 2001, of working both as a mainstream journalist and a communication/media consultant in Liberia. He is Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (elected Dec 2013). He was Assistant Secretary General of the Union Dec 2011 to Dec 2013. He is also Editor-In-Chief of The Informer Newspaper—one of Liberia’s credible dailies. Before joining the Informer, Danicius had served as reporter, chief reporter, sub-editor and News Editor at The Independent Newspaper between 2002 and 2006. Before then, he was reporter at the defunct Patriot Newspaper and Kiss FM 2001-2002. Danicius is a UN Media Fellow and Liberia’s first UN Medal Award-winning journalist for his contribution to journalism and for being the second Liberian journalist in 15 years to qualify for and successfully attended the United Nations’ Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalist Fellowship Program in New York and Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and Sociology from the University of Liberia and a Diploma in Journalism from the International School of Journalism. He holds several awards and recognitions both in and outside of journalism, and carries dozens of certificates in journalism and communication from studies in Ghana, China, United States and Switzerland, among others. He volunteers as Chair of the Information and Communication Committee of his local Bardnersville community. He can be quickly reached via (+231) 886586531/777586531/777464018/ dakasen1978@yahoo.com

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